A Book in the Hand: E-Text Initiative

Prefer to cozy up with a Kindle or Nook? Love flipping through onscreen pages on your iPad? Enjoy the ease of reading the same book across devices?

Or do your eyes glaze over when you try to read e-text? Do you prefer the feel of a hard copy, the rustle of pages and the familiar weight?

The answer is as individual as the reader?and we’re just talking about reading for pleasure. When It’s a matter of reading for learning, a whole host of other questions come into play.

While some are comfortable learning in an all-online setting, others find screen displays visually difficult to navigate or generally distracting. And according to researchers, It’s more than just personal preference; educational professionals are still debating whether missing out on things like spatial memory will affect students? ability to understand rather than merely memorize the material. In some subject areas, like math and the sciences, the application is clear, but It’s not limited to books involving equations. Experts also question whether studying material via e-texts as opposed to traditional books affects our reading comprehension on a higher level (like our ability to make inferences and extrapolate).

In the midst of this ongoing debate comes Athabasca University’s new e-text initiative: to eventually change all course texts to e-texts.

It’s ironic that AU, long known for accommodating students requiring ultimate flexibility, is implementing a program that in practice is quite inflexible. Currently, e-text-only courses are limited to a selection, but as the initiative continues to roll out, students will receive only e-texts in course materials packages. No hard text option will be directly available.

Although students are not prohibited from purchasing textbooks or printing out hard copies of the e-books (at the cost of paper and ink, it might be preferable to purchase a text), the university will only subsidize the e-text. Since students are already paying for their course texts as part of the tuition package, the ?choice? to find and purchase hard copies of texts is essentially a choice to pay double.

In addition to cost issues and personal study habits, there are a myriad of other considerations, including online/offline features, limited-duration accessibility, visual issues, and more. In the next few weeks, we’ll discuss these in further detail and speak with students about their concerns over how the move to e-texts will affect them. If you feel passionate about this, make your voice heard! Email us at voice@voicemagazine.org and tell us about your biggest e-text concern.

We republish this particular editorial from our June 7, 2013 edition (no. 21) as it is the first notification from The Voice about AU’s move toward e-texts, and, even at that point, was already beyond the point of no return for the university. In the last 6 months, many concerns have been raised by students, and while some have been addressed, the issue most frequently raised?that unlike every other post-secondary institution that has done this, AU will not be passing on any cost savings to students?remains.